The path to prescriptive maintenance

Three steps to drive reliability while preparing for IIoT.


Fig. 1: High mechanical availability with low maintenance costs might seem counterintuitive, but these qualities are consistently exhibited by top-performing companies. Courtesy: EmersonThe Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will bring many benefits as it evolves and advances in the coming years. But today many companies worry about their readiness and feel overwhelmed thinking about the expense of preparations, particularly those organizations that are still moving from reactive and preventive to predictive maintenance (PdM). Now the topic is prescriptive maintenance, where analytics can show that a piece of equipment is headed for trouble and can prescribe prioritized, pre-determined, expert-driven mitigation or repair.


These ideas can be overwhelming, but in this case, as in most cases, planning rather than worry saves the day. Rather than attempting a heroic leap from reactive to prescriptive maintenance, reliability organizations and companies can perform many activities today to prepare for the IIoT and for prescriptive maintenance while simultaneously finding immediate reductions in maintenance costs and increased availability.

One of the most commonly cited benefits of the IIoT is the elimination of downtime, a direct improvement on production and profitability. But the benefit only comes as companies move away from old habits such as reactive or preventive maintenance and are prepared to act on detailed information that predicts asset failure.

Prepare to be proactive

Imagine receiving notice that an asset will fail in the next 10 days and creating a corrective work order to address it only to have the work order linger in the system until the asset fails! It happens to many companies that use PdM. Prescriptive maintenance may only increase the precision and frequency of the information in this scenario, therefore, until the organization is prepared to act on alert information in a timely manner, little benefit will be realized.

Three actions will move your organization to PdM and will lay the groundwork for prescriptive maintenance, and for your adoption of IIoT initiatives when the time is right.

  • Prepare your culture to be proactive
  • Integrate your condition monitoring program with your maintenance work management processes
  • Implement a continuous improvement process.

Fig. 2. When using preventive maintenance, failures are detected too late, and much of the time that could be spent resolving impending issues is lost. Corrective actions are instead taken during a lengthy unexpected shutdown. Predictive maintenance allowTop performing facilities enjoy consistently strong reliability. In fact, top performers have high mechanical availability and low maintenance costs simultaneously (Fig. 1). Lower performing manufacturers seem always to be fighting the most attention-grabbing issue, while process availability suffers.

The business advantages of top-quartile performance—higher availability that results in lower maintenance costs—should be constantly on the lips of executives. Management support is the most important ingredient in transforming culture from reactive to proactive, and a well-documented business case is its foundation. To obtain approval, make it clear that these reliability and maintenance benefits come from PdM and that the gains profit your organization.

The secret to the achieving the goals of Fig. 1 lies in the illustration in Fig. 2. Because most failures occur at random equipment age intervals, a time-based preventive maintenance activity can permit an unplanned shutdown, resulting in more downtime than if the plant were using a predictive approach. Hard failures of assets are often more expensive to repair due to fees associated with obtaining parts on short notice, collateral damage to the asset, and the costs of scheduling resources on short notice.

Many facilities practice time-based maintenance in which at some pre-set interval a technician works on an asset to avoid a failure. As illustrated above, many time-based tasks are ineffective, and, in many cases, periodic parts replacement actually induces failure. Because the preventive approach requires more planned downtime and results in more unplanned downtime, facilities that follow this model face extreme challenges in attaining top-quartile performance.

Nevertheless, the preventive maintenance model has been widely employed since the 1950s. Changing the mindsets of operators, maintenance personnel, and business leaders must be part of every plan to attain PdM and top-quartile performance. The key idea is to instill in your organization the fundamental belief that failure is unacceptable and that everyone shares in eliminating its causes. Once this idea begins to take hold and stability (instead of firefighting) is rewarded, you can unlock the benefits of condition monitoring and adopt upgraded behaviors.

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